Great Whales Still Face Grave Threats

by Gershon Cohen, Ph.D.  — Co-Director, Great Whale Conservancy

A magnificent Blue Whale fluke (Image courtesy of Michael Fishbach, Great Whale Conservancy)

A magnificent Blue Whale fluke (Image courtesy of Michael Fishbach, Great Whale Conservancy)

The Great Whales need our help.  They face multiple threats today in many parts of the world: “scientific whaling,” ship strikes, habitat encroachment, decreasing food supplies, ocean acidification, etc.; it is up to us to take on these threats and do what we can to protect these magnificent, sentient beings.

The Great Whale Conservancy was created in 2010 to answer this call, and the first problem we are focusing on is the ship strike issue that plagues whales in oceans around the planet –where great whales and cargo ships, oil tankers, and cruise ships try to occupy the same place at the same time.  The whales have no choice: they need to follow their food and consumes tons of protein every day to survive.  The ships have a choice: they can adjust their transits to minimize the time they spend in Great Whale habitat. [Read more…]

Lessons of BP Deepwater Horizon: Unlearned and Now Unleashed in Alaska

Shell's Kulluk platform aground at Stikalidak Island, Alaska

Shell’s Kulluk platform aground at Sitkalidak Island, Alaska (USCG Photo)

Just a short time ago the world was mesmerized by a mile-deep live feed of an unstoppable tempest of brown crude and an unprecedented frenzy of human activity undertaking desperate, inadequate attempts to halt the flow and skim, burn, disperse, and boom the rest. In the countless hearings by Congress and the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling that would follow, talk of a cold, distant frontier was unavoidable:  The chilling thought of such a disaster occurring in the Arctic, where remoteness, vastness, heavy weather and unforgiving seas combine to make even simple tasks at sea profoundly more difficult. In the face of the largest oil spill in history, many of us found consolation in that we were finally paying attention to the perils of offshore drilling and these lessons would finally be learned.

What BP Deepwater Horizon illustrated vividly was that civilization’s striking advances in deepwater drilling have far outpaced its ability to clean up should a disaster occur. Perhaps the most chilling of all the Congressional testimony was the revelation by oil company CEOs that the essence of their plan for dealing with a catastrophic oil spill was to not have a catastrophic oil spill. A great idea on paper, but in the real world, an arrogant denial of the limits of technology, human error, and Mother Nature’s merciless power. [Read more…]

A Small Gift as a Token of Our Appreciation

Show Them How You Feel About Salt Water! [Read more…]

An Important Message from Ocean Doctor





Too Much Love for the Fish Everyone Hates

Spiny Dogfish (Squalus acanthus)

The much-maligned, misunderstood and now treasured “trash fish,” the spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthius). Photo: © Boris Pamikov

It was a sadly typical meeting of the Board of Collier County (Florida) Commissioners in the late nineties. As the meeting droned on, I tuned it out and fell into deep concentration, obsessively rewriting now long-forgotten remarks I would deliver to the Commission about conservation in Southwest Florida on behalf of The Conservancy of Southwest Florida where I was president and CEO. Our environmental policy director, Michael Simonik, suddenly elbowed me, “Can you believe this?” he gasped. As I looked up, Commissioner Barbara Berry was on her soapbox delivering a monologue, and like Michael, I was stunned to hear what she was saying. She soared into hyperbole to sing the praises of the land developers, declaring Southwest Florida far better than when she arrived, and with a look of disgust tinged with horror, told us how awful it was before the developers came, with all of these unsightly “tangles” of trees and messy vegetation. Nature run amok. Thank god the developers came along and made Southwest Florida a better place, with the neatly manicured lawns of its gated communities (not to mention highest number of golf courses per capita in the world). But as I gazed around the room, there were heads nodding. And I learned something. [Read more…]

What Every Good “Shark Week” Fan Should Read While They Watch

Bluntnose Sixgill Shark Hexanchus griseus ? R. Dean Grubbs

Bluntnose Sixgill Shark Hexanchus griseus ? R. Dean Grubbs

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA. August 13, 2012 – At the close of the annual meeting of leading American shark and ray scientists, the IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG) is releasing the first compilation of conservation status assessments for nearly 300 sharks, rays, and chimaeras (collectively known as chondrichthyan fishes) found in North American, Central American, and Caribbean waters conducted using the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species criteria. The report and supplementary materials can be downloaded from the IUCN website.

The report documents that 13.5% of the region’s shark, skate, and chimaera species qualify for one of the three “threatened” categories — Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable — associated with an elevated risk of extinction. Nine rays and 20 sharks qualify as Vulnerable. Sixteen percent of species are classified as Near Threatened, 27% as Least Concern, and 43.4% as Data Deficient. [Read more…]

Researchers Discover Planet’s Northernmost Coral Reef

Researchers have discovered the world's northermost coral reefs off Japan's Tsushima Island (Image: Kaoru Sugihara)

Researchers have discovered the world’s northermost coral reefs off Japan’s Tsushima Island (Image: Kaoru Sugihara)

Coral reefs are typically found in the warm, clear waters of the tropics and subtropics. Researchers in Japan have recently discovered a coral reef far north of any previously discovered on the planet, off the coast of Japan’s Tsushima Island at 34 degrees north latitude. As a reference, this would put the reef north of the city of Atlanta, Georgia. While cold water and deep water corals are found in polar regions, the types of reef-building corals discovered in Japan are generally much more sensitive to cold water and to cloudy or turbid waters, making this discovery all the more remarkable, especially in light of winter water temperatures of 13 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit), considered extremely low and most often fatal to most coral reefs. [Read more…]

RETURN to the Arctic Depths – An Ocean Doctor Special Presentation

DeepWorker sub films a giant grenadier at 1,900 feet in the Bering sea

DeepWorker sub films a giant grenadier at 1,900 feet in the Bering sea

An Ocean Doctor Special Presentation

In 2007, Greenpeace launched a groundbreaking expedition to explore the two largest underwater canyons in the world, in the heart of the Bering Sea. It was the first time manned submersibles ever entered these canyons and human eyes gazed directly upon their treasures. The expedition revealed an extraordinary tapestry of life thousands of feet below the surface, including beautiful, brightly-colored deepwater corals, sponges, anemones, octopus and fish and resulted the discovery of new species and species ranges.

The expedition also revealed the terrible damage being done to these intricate ecosystems by trawling nets, even more than 1,000 feet below the surface. Coldwater corals are the oldest living animals on the planet, some of which are roughly 4,000 years old and still alive today. But what may take decades, centuries or millenia to grow can be wiped out in the blink of an eye by a factory trawler net. [Read more…]

60 MINUTES “The Gardens of the Queen” Named Finalist at BLUE Ocean Film Festival 2012

60 MINUTES' "Gardens of the Queen" Named as Finalist in BLUE Ocean Film Festival 2012

60 MINUTES’ “Gardens of the Queen,” with Anderson Cooper named as Finalist in BLUE Ocean Film Festival 2012 (Image: CBS)

The 60 MINUTES presentation of “The Gardens of the Queen” with Anderson Cooper featuring Cuba’s Jardines de la Reina has been named a finalist in the BLUE Ocean Film Festival 2012, to be held September 24-30, 2012 in Monterey, California. Cooper and the 60 MINUTES team joined Dr. David E. Guggenheim, Senior Fellow and Director of the Cuba Marine Research and Conservation Program at The Ocean Foundation and?Fabi?n Pina Amarg’s of the Cuban Center for Coastal Ecosystem Research, to explore this striking underwater ecosystem. Earlier this year, the 60 MINUTES segment, which originally aired in December 2011, won the 2012 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in journalism.

“The Gardens of the Queen” will be screened at BLUE, with an introduction and discussion by Dr. Guggenheim, now in his 12th year working in Cuba, along with the 60 MINUTES producers (invited) and panel of experts focused on the significance of the piece as well as the important roles that marine protected areas play in protecting the world’s ocean ecosystems. [Read more…]

Where Mercury in Fish Comes From and What Regulators are Doing About it

An Inconvienient Reality

Image by Nick Humphries via Flickr

Mercury in fish? Much of it comes from the sky. Coal-fired power plants emit tons of the toxic heavy metal into the atmosphere where it travels hundreds of miles before depositing on the surface of lakes, rivers and the oceans, where it is ingested and gradually works its way up to the top of the food chain where it becomes highly-concentrated in the flesh of the ocean’s predators, such as sharks, tunas, and dolphins.

The EPA issued a rule on mercury emissions, but there is now concern that they may weaken the ruling due to push back from electric utility companies. [Read more…]